Although the finding didn’t determine whether the outcome would have been different if Officer Jason Anderson had been carrying a Taser, interim Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best found he violated department policy.
A Seattle police officer who did not have his Taser with him when he was involved in the fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles has been suspended for two days without pay for violating department policy.
Interim Police Chief Carmen Best imposed the discipline Friday on Officer Jason Anderson, one of two officers who shot Lyles when, according to the officers, she suddenly pulled one or two knives on them during a June 18 confrontation at a Northeast Seattle apartment.
Anderson, who joined the department in 2015, told investigators the Taser’s battery had stopped working and that he switched to carrying pepper spray along with his regular baton.
In concluding that Anderson violated a department policy requiring officers trained in Taser use to carry one, Best rejected Anderson’s defense that it is implicit in the policy that an officer’s obligation to carry one applies only when the equipment is functional.
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“Your complacency in this regard is unacceptable and added an otherwise unnecessary element to an incident already of significant public concern,” Best wrote in her first high-profile disciplinary action since becoming interim chief after former Chief Kathleen O’Toole stepped down at the end of last year.
“The impact of your disregard for this policy on public trust should not be underestimated,” added Best, who is seeking the job as permanent chief for which the city has launched a nationwide search.
Separating the equipment issue from the shooting, Best noted that the disciplinary case didn’t reach a conclusion on whether the outcome would have been different if Anderson was carrying a Taser or whether its use would have been a viable or permissible option.
But Anderson should have taken steps to correct the equipment problem and notify his supervisor and the department’s Taser coordinator that his Taser wasn’t functioning, Best found in a disciplinary report made public Friday.
Lyles, a 30-year-old African-American mother of four, was shot seven times by the officers, who are white, after she called 911 to report a burglary at her apartment.
The shooting unleashed a storm of public protest, with many seeing it as another example of unnecessary deadly force being used by police against people of color.
In a statement Friday night, Corey Guilmette, an attorney for Lyles’ siblings and cousins, said: “It is concerning that Officer Anderson chose not to follow Seattle Police Department policy by failing to carry his Taser. However, it is unclear whether Charleena would be alive today if Officer Anderson had carried his Taser.”
Guilmette noted the department’s Force Review Board found it would be counter to training to rely on a Taser in the circumstances described by officers.
“Until there are changes to policy and training, the same events that led to Charleena’s death could happen tomorrow,” he wrote. “Charleena’s brother, sisters, and cousins expect the police oversight system and City of Seattle elected officials to insist that SPD push harder to find other tactical options for officers in a situation like this.”
The other officer, Steven McNew, who wasn’t assigned a Taser, was carrying a baton.
The Force Review Board’s report, released in December, determined that a Taser — as well as baton or pepper spray — weren’t feasible alternatives during the confrontation with Lyles. The report found the shooting to be reasonable, necessary and proportional and consistent with department training and policy.
The board, which consists of about 15 members, concluded that a Taser was unlikely to be effective, given a success rate of about 50 percent despite “common misperceptions” that Tasers are a “miracle tool.”
Noting that Lyles was wearing a puffy coat, the board’s report said Tasers won’t penetrate baggy or heavy clothing.
In addition, the effectiveness of a Taser’s two electrically charged probes requires adequate spread between them to render neuromuscular incapacitation, with an optimal distance of 7 to 15 feet, according to the report.
Lyles was “well within half of that distance from each officer,” the report said.
Anderson, in a statement shortly after the shooting, said McNew suggested a Taser during the confrontation. Anderson said he told McNew he didn’t have a Taser.
Based on his training, Anderson said, he wouldn’t have used a Taser because Lyles had lunged at him with a knife and looked as if she was going to try to stab the other officer. Anderson told investigators he feared for his life and had to suck in his stomach and move back to avoid being stabbed.
Anderson said that at least a couple of months before the June shooting he had been considering abandoning the Taser altogether, saying it was taking up too much space on his vest and belt for his slender frame.
When the Taser’s battery stopped working, he said, he left it in his locker and didn’t get it recharged. He said it had been in his locker, uncharged, for up to two weeks.
Seattle police policy requires officers who are trained and certified in using Tasers and have been issued one to carry it with them during a shift.
Anderson said he told other officers about forgoing the Taser, but did not tell superiors.
During an internal investigation by the department’s Office of Police Accountability, Anderson acknowledged he didn’t notify the Training Unit to obtain a replacement battery or seek permission to carry other nonlethal devices, according to the disciplinary report.
“You placed the Taser in your locker and took no action to ensure that it was operational for ten days, during which time you worked seven shifts without carrying a Taser, seeking to have its battery replaced, or returning your Taser,” Best wrote.
In his defense, Anderson noted that replacement batteries weren’t available at his precinct or at 3 a.m. when he discovered the problem. He stated he always carried a Taser when it worked.
Best wrote that it was Anderson’s responsibility to make sure the battery was replaced or get approval to carry a different nonlethal device, and that it was unclear what, if anything, he would have done to address the problem had it not come to light as a result of the shooting.
In the Force Review Board report, the board also found that using pepper spray within the small confines of the apartment would be “tactically counterproductive,” saying the potential secondary effect could disable the officers and make them more vulnerable to attack.
Batons, the report said, require sufficient space to draw and maneuver.
“The Board agreed that neither time nor space would have allowed for officers to ready themselves with their batons,” the report says, concluding a baton is not an appropriate tool to defend against a threat with a knife.
Although the officers were larger than the 5-foot-3, 100-pound Lyles, the board found it would have been counter to training and policy for the officers to go “hands-on” with Lyles and put themselves at risk by trying to control a combative person armed with a knife.
Lyles posed an immediate lethal threat to the officers and two of her small children nearby, the report said.
An inquest into the shooting is pending, as is a review by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to determine if the officers should face criminal charges.